Jun 19, 2018, 9:30:16 AM CDT Feb 14, 2023, 2:55:45 PM CST

Video game addiction: When is gaming more than just a hobby?

Learn about gaming disorder and signs of problematic video game play in children

Little boy playing video game holding Xbox controller Little boy playing video game holding Xbox controller

It's not a surprise for most parents that video games can affect their child's behavior and emotions. However, parents may be surprised to learn that the World Health Organization (WHO) now classifies 'gaming disorder' as a mental health condition.

What is gaming disorder?

Gaming disorder is defined by a lack of control over video games, marked by giving increasing priority to playing games (or “gaming”) over other interests and activities despite negative consequences. According to the initial summary of the disorder, problematic video gaming must be “evident over a period of at least 12 months” for this diagnosis to be made.

It's important to note that substance use and playing video games are very different issues.

But, with this announcement, the WHO is recognizing that uncontrolled video gaming has symptoms that have a lot in common with other compulsive and addictive disorders.

"An often-overlooked part of problematic gaming is that parents rarely recognize that video games or handheld devices and computers can lead to severely problematic behavior," says David Atkinson, M.D., Medical Director of the Teen Recovery Program at Children's Health and Associate Professor at UT Southwestern. "Parents look at these items as something they need to set limits on, but almost never as something that may become out of their and their child's control."

Signs of video game addiction in children

Some parents may be uncertain if their child is just passionate about video games or had a deeper issue worth further attention. Here are a few signs that your child's use of video games may require the help of a psychologist or behavioral health professional:

  • Inability to reduce gaming despite effort
  • Loss of interest in other activities and hobbies
  • Lying about video game usage
  • Increased weight gain
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Poor impulse control
  • Worsening or appearance of new ADHD-like symptoms
  • Limited social interaction
  • Foregoing sleep to play video games

Not all gamers will exhibit these behaviors. Often kids may engage in overuse of games to escape negative feelings, like anxiety or loneliness, without realizing it's a problem. But, in doing so, they may be foregoing the opportunity to develop more sustainable coping skills. 

How parents can stop video game addiction

If you are concerned about your child, Dr. Atkinson suggests monitoring your child's game play. Parental guidance can be very successful at limiting game play, and it may be easier to start this with children under 12 years old. While the World Health Organization requires 12 months of problems to qualify for the diagnosis, it is important to not delay intervention if parents think there is a more serious problem at hand before that year mark.

When parents begin to notice problems with a child's gaming, it can often be difficult to control those issues. Children can respond with extreme anger when adjusting to the new reality. If problematic gaming behaviors become persistent, please seek the help of a professional psychologist or behavioral health professional.

According to @WHO, gaming too much is now classified as a mental health condition. Learn about the disorder and signs of problematic video game play in children via @Childrens.

Learn more

If you think technology is affecting your child's mental health, see tips for setting boundaries that encourage digital health. Children's Health psychologists and psychiatrists can help children and teens manage anxiety, depression and mental health disorders. Learn more about our programs and services.

Screen capture of family newsletter signup

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the Children's Health Family Newsletter.

Children's Health will not sell, share or rent your information to third parties. Please read our privacy policy.

Children's Health Family Newsletter

Get health tips and parenting advice from Children's Health experts sent straight to your inbox twice a month.

anxiety, behavior, emotion, mental health, mood, social skills

Childrens Health